NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS on December 31st were like no other, but then 2020 was a year like no other. The first blow was the edict that all restaurants and pubs must shut at 11PM. This was based on the latest scientific discovery that the coronavirus sleeps through the day and goes out for a drink and a bite after 11. New Year was thus brought in at 10, which was apt because everyone, barring Trump, wanted 2020 out of the door as early as possible.
Going against the advice of many who suggested staying at home with loved ones (which we have been doing for nine months, so now we know who’s been straying—the guys giving stay-at-home advice), we celebrated with friends. (Note to authorities: this consisted of two families with three members in each, a sit-down dinner at a table that sits 12, masks on even when eating and drinking, a new mask for every course). On the way back, there was no one on Marine Drive except cops observing social distancing. It was just like being in Chennai on any evening after 8.
With no taxis to dodge on the way home, there was nothing to do but reflect on the year gone by. This is always a melancholic exercise because the year gone by has never lived up to expectations, even though all of us, barring Trump, did our best. I have been brought up to look for silver
linings in every dark cloud (on the sound principle that this at least makes you look up), so I began my gloomy stock-taking and scrabbling around for shiny metal. Believe me, dodging taxis is a much better option. However, for what they are worth, here are my silver linings.
You will instantly recognise that the linings I look for are gold, not silver, when I say Covid hasn’t been all that bad. For example, if you exclude the population that carelessly caught the coronavirus, Mumbai’s health chart actually improved last year: gastroenteritis figures came down from 7,785 to 2,478, hepatitis from 1,534 to 259, dengue from 920 to 128, H1N1 from 451 to a mere 44. Only malaria went up, from 4,357 to 4,874, probably because mosquitoes forgot to use sanitisers. Other pluses include fewer dog bites. The daily average of 180 in 2019 came down to 90 in 2020, a reduction of 50 per cent, so every dog obviously didn’t have his day. Did fear of the virus keep stray dogs with their loved ones in whatever spaces they call home?
In other good news, psychiatrists had more patients than ever before. “Earlier, we were only counselling mentally ill patients,” a leading practitioner was quoted saying, “But now we are also counselling Covid-19 patients. Not just that, we are counselling the doctors and nurses who are treating the Covid patients!” It’s no laughing matter, of course: apart from the constant worry of catching the virus, health workers have to wear PPE suits and masks for hours on end. That’s resulted in obese doctors becoming trim and thin, disappearing completely. Many have turned to God, others to yoga and pranayam, which are forms of prayer too. One of the city’s best known psychiatrists has given this sage advice: eat good food, sleep eight hours a day, go on a vacation. Nothing like expert advice when you are in distress.
Apparently—and you can rely on our pink papers to come up with catchy headlines—‘Sober Days Over, Liquor Companies Are Back in High Spirits as Sales Surge’. The reason for this professional inebriety is that sales of alcoholic drinks for October, November and December 2020 were 7 per cent better than for those months in 2019. Some brands in the ‘luxury sector’ (which probably means spirits for people who drink when they don’t have to), shot up by as much as 30 per cent. Another extremely useful statistic: in the absence of travel, duty-free has given way to duty-paid, which increases state revenue. Considering that two-thirds of the price of an alcoholic beverage goes into government pockets, what’s the betting international travel will be banned for a further period?
That means more high-flying Indians laid low in severely locked-down London (and they thought they were getting away from poor, benighted Mumbai!) If any of them are looking for silver linings, the Michelin-starred Gymkhana restaurant in Mayfair, famous for ‘elegant Indian dishes inspired by the Raj’, is now advertising ‘Club Experience’ boxes. For a mere 110 pounds sterling you can get dinner for four consisting of the Gymkhana’s signature Wild Muntjac Biryani, Kid Goat Keema, Tandoori Lamb Chops, Dal Maharani and Makai Palak accompanied by ‘poppadoms, gol guppas, pao buns, garlic naan balls, saffron water and gulab jamuns.’
Closer home, December 31st saw the promoters of Zomato and Swiggy on a non-alcoholic high. After all, they recorded 60 per cent higher orders than last year’s last day, with Zomato’s peak hitting 4,254 orders per minute. Obviously, more and more people celebrated the kicking out of 2020 at home with their loved ones.